Building the Body: Students Reach Out to Low-Income Neighborhood

Building the Body: Students Reach Out to Low-Income Neighborhood

December 19, 2007


Fifteen dollars, a sleeping bag, a Bible, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes doesn't sound like much. But for Sioux Falls Seminary and its students, it is the foundation of an immersion class that just might become the inspiration for a whole lot more.

For the past year and a half, Sioux Falls Seminary�s Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies, Dr. W. Jay Moon, has offered a few different versions of his course Intercultural Studies 571: Mission Immersion Experience. So far, students have had the opportunity to experience life on the Rosebud reservation, live among the homeless, and help victims of Hurricane Katrina clean-up and rebuild. This fall, the course offering was similar - live and commune with residents of one of the lowest income neighborhoods in Sioux Falls, one that the city's mayor has targeted for revitalization.

The experience took place during reading week, October 8-12. Moon and a handful of seminary students started their experience with the bare essentials (fifteen dollars, a sleeping bag, a Bible, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes) and the sole purpose of finding out what happens when the Kingdom of God shows up in a low-income neighborhood.

So what exactly did it look like? The group started by going door to door to offer free winterization of windows and help with other light yard work. They accumulated a work list for the week and, as they went into homes, had opportunities to visit with residents, hear their concerns, and sometimes even pray with them. When Moon and the students were not helping residents, they spent time at The Banquet and the Union Gospel Mission.

Master of Divinity student Seth Michael says the Mission Immersion Experience "put a face to the people we would normally pass by" and perhaps not even notice.

On Thursday, October 11, students from the greater seminary community joined the Mission Immersion students to help winterize more homes in the area. Over twenty students came to demonstrate their commitment to building the body of Christ outside the seminary walls. Later that evening, a crowd of around 70 neighborhood residents showed up when the seminary faculty and administration hosted a barbecue at the home of Sioux Falls Seminary alumnus Dan Lee. He and his wife, Minnie, have moved into the revitalization area in order to minister directly to its residents.

Throughout the week, as the seminary community interacted with residents, a pattern emerged. There seemed to be an interest in talking about spirituality, Jesus, and God within the neighborhood. Some residents are reading the Bible and just want someone to explain it to them, while others have an interest in attending church but feel like they are neither worthy nor welcomed.

Though not visible, Moon feels that barriers exist between churches and low-income people. "Many people in the neighborhood think that the church doesn't want anything to do with them," said Moon. "And many churches do not think there is an interest on the part of low-income residents because they are not entering inside their doors."

The results of this year's Mission Immersion Experience have left Moon asking the question, "What if seminary students can become the bridge between community churches and low-income residents?"

The potential in Moon's question, spurred by the overwhelming response of the seminary community to this particular low-income Sioux Falls neighborhood, is beginning to unfold.

The seminary is in active dialogue with Mayor Dave Munson and the City Planning Office to find ways to purchase a house in the downtown revitalization area. This house would not only provide housing to students, but would also offer area residents the opportunity to see the work of the Holy Spirit firsthand in their neighborhood and in their lives - eventually bridging the gap that seems to exist between churches and the poor. The possible partnership with the Mayor's and City Planning offices would also help the city make better contact with residents by having pertinent information available at the seminary house.

As Master of Divinity student and Immersion Experience participant Cory Grimm said, "The immersion provided me with a glimpse of how much God loves people."

At this point, although it is uncertain exactly how the seminary and its students will work to bring churches and low-income families together, one thing is certain: it only takes fifteen dollars, a sleeping bag, a Bible, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes to inspire an entire community.

If you are interested in taking part in a future Mission Immersion Experience* or would like to learn more about how you can help the seminary bridge the gap between churches and the poor, contact Associate Professor W. Jay Moon by calling 800.440.6227 or e-mailing jmoon@sfseminary.edu.

*An undergraduate degree is required to enroll in a course at Sioux Falls Seminary.